- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 19, 2000

Mixed responses to 'Rachel Carson's curse'

Mixed responses to 'Rachel Carson's curse'

For those who elect not to recognize humanity's responsibility for keeping its natural house in order, Rachel Carson remains the emotional target. Thirty-eight years after the publication of her book "Silent Spring," the pesticide manufacturers, the mega-farmers, the chemical-industry titans and the nuclear power industry still froth at the mention of her name. Their defense of the indefensible including the manufacture for sale overseas of poisons banned here because they are human carcinogens and the creation of nightmare wastes that literally cannot be disposed is as spirited as the tobacco industry's adamantine assertion that smoking isn't harmful and even longer-running.

Like all big-money spenders, these industries have their mouthpieces, apparently including certain newspaper editorial departments. Kenneth Smith's Feb. 10 Op-Ed column, "Rachel Carson's curse," is a case in point. Because the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are at odds over how much radiation is safe for humans (and other living things) to ingest and because the decision may have a substantial impact on the expense of "disposing" of nuclear waste, the industry rolls out its apologists, and a new round of name-calling mostly Rachel Carson's name, by the way starts.

She would be delighted. Carson died of cancer in 1964, just two years after publication of her book, which opened the eyes of persons around the world to the terrible sterile legacy of human egotism and neglect. This new understanding that humans have a responsibility not only to their own species, but to all other species to preserve a habitable environment has been called one of the greatest revolutions in human thought. She shared the March 29, 1999, cover of Time magazine with Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk as one of the most influential scientists and thinkers of the 20th century.

Of course, such honors would have meant little to her. The saving of lives, human and otherwise, was her passion.

I suppose the name-calling in columns such as Mr. Smith's is a good thing, in a way. It demonstrates that through her words she remains a formidable adversary to those entities that rank corporate profits ahead of life, and to their newsprint toadies.

DDT, the pesticide that destroyed birds' reproductive cycle leading to the title "Silent Spring" and thalidomide, the terrible drug that caused grotesque birth defects in humans, worked their destruction in similar ways. The banning of both began in 1962, the year of the book's publication, sparing future avian and human populations death and misery.

KIRK RENSE

Laguna Hills, Calif.

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I would like to make three points in response to Kenneth Smith's column "Rachel Carson's curse."

First, whatever federal regulations are applied to third-party human health should be applied to all human activity. This is simply equity. I am not current in nuclear regulatory practice, but I am certain that if America applied nuclear radiation standards consistently throughout our society, airplanes would not fly, as Mr. Smith wrote. Moreover, electricity grids would collapse. Much of our power comes from coal, much of which is hideously radioactive by nuclear standards. Our vehicular culture would be unrecognizable; most fossil fuels are radioactive. Many areas of the country would be evacuated because their dirt is radioactive.

Vast areas of Vermont, Colorado and even Northern Virginia and Maryland would be uninhabitable. Brick structures would be illegal because brick is made from clay. Forget medical X-rays or radiation treatments for cancer; they would be history. Indeed, all research with ionizing radiation would stop. Many graduate schools could not function. But we would be safe.

The second point is the unscientific basis of our law, an assumed linear relationship between the dosage of any substance and human health. It does not follow that if a ton of ingested water per day will kill, a glass of water is potentially dangerous.

Successful nations historically have used their science, experience and common-sense logic to slowly improve culture though the centuries, which leads to the third point. We have a century of scientific study and 50 years of cultural experience with radiation. Technical people have a unique moral obligation to tell the truth, not to terrify in order to accrue power. If living near the nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain is no worse than the exposure from 5 coast-to-coast flights, people should be told this. But there is a greater obligation: Our leaders must not demagogue. Hitler swayed his nation to the policy that if all Jews were gone, the country would be safe. The Puritans did the same with witches. At the beginning of the last century, experts railed against electricity in a baby's room.

Our country will not survive unless we learn to live in the scientific age. We are failing.

R.L. HAILS SR.

Olney

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Kenneth Smith's "Rachel Carson's curse" was an excellent column. I appreciate it when I see the mainstream press questioning the science of both the government and the environmentalists. Although I work with software, I have a master's degree in nuclear physics, training in radiation safety and medical physics and have worked in the medical radiation field, so I have some experience with both the scientific reality and the popular (and oftentimes government-mandated) lunacy that surrounds exposure to radiation.

It pains me to no end to see people constantly use the logic of "if a lot is bad, a little must be at least a little bad," especially when applied to the nuclear and chemical industries. Again, I appreciate Mr. Smith's stand against junk science.

RICHARD SWOPE

San Jose, Calif.

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I must take exception to Kenneth Smith's statement about Rachel Carson. He stated, "The author was a biologist, not an expert in cancer research, and almost four decades later there is still no scientific basis for her warnings." If this were true, we would still be using DDT as a pesticide and have no bald eagles or peregrine falcons. Carson's warnings about the effect of pesticides on the ecosystem helped us recognize that we were poisoning the environment. The scientific studies done on DDT proved she was right.

JOHN HANSAN

Columbus, Ohio

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Kenneth Smith had a well-stated column discussing those troublesome facts and issues that the Environmental Protection Agency, eco-nuts and the media realize interfere with what they know is best for us. Like almost all liberals, these groups hate to argue facts and do their best to bury or disguise them. Hopefully Mr. Smith's column informed some and perhaps annoyed others.

TOM HOLLERAN

Gettysburg, Pa.

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So, everything is safe, and only nuts like Rachel Carson and me are worried about radiation, cancer, DDT, preservation of habitat, etc. There have been excesses in the environmental movement. There have been excesses in the opposition to the environmental movement. Silly, one-sided columns of half-truths like Kenneth Smith's don't help moderate either kind of excess.

KEN HAMBURGER

Vale, N.Y.

A call to end delays on anti-missile defense

Frank Gaffney Jr. correctly points out that the Navy has a functioning anti-missile defense system already in place ("Anti-missile defense dawdling," Commentary, Feb. 15). Its Aegis cruisers are an excellent sea-based platform for that purpose. All that needs to be done is to upgrade the system to defend the continental United States.

Additionally, our submarine fleet, probably the most expensive military program we have, should be used for this purpose as well. Now that the Russian Bear has been tamed, it can be diverted from its "Hunt for Red October" missions of the Cold War.

What Mr. Gaffney omitted from his well-stated column is that our Patriot anti-Scud system, hero of Operation Desert Storm, purposely was downgraded from anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities so as not to offend our then-Soviet nemesis and the now-defunct ABM treaties.

It's time we used every technology we have to protect ourselves, regardless of world opinion. Whatever the reason for administrative delays, there is no excuse for leaving the United States vulnerable in such dangerous times as these. Maybe the Republican Party should rehash that old Lyndon B. Johnson campaign ad in which the girl is picking the flower and there's a nuclear missile countdown superimposed over her innocent singing.

BRIAN PICARDI

Brooklyn

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